Stenhammar: String Quartets No 5 & 6 / Stenhammar Quartet

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Also available: String Quartets Nos 1 & 2 and String Quartets Nos 3 & 4

STENHAMMAR String Quartets: No. 5 in C, op. 29, “Serenade;” in f; No. 6 in d, op.35 Stenhammar Qrt BIS 2009 (SACD: 65:20)

Here is the Stenhammar Quartet’s second installment in its survey of works for string quartet by the ensemble’s namesake composer, Wilhelm Stenhammar. It follows quickly on the heels of Volume 1, which was reviewed only in the last issue (37:3).

Much of what was said about the previous release applies to this one, and so soon after, needn’t be repeated. If you’re familiar with Stenhammar’s late-blooming Romantic idiom in general, and his string quartets in particular, the three works on this disc further reinforce the composer’s consistency in craftsmanship and style.

The three-way comparison I made last time in reviewing Volume 1 of this cycle, which contained the String Quartets Nos. 3 and 4, was between the Stenhammar, Oslo, and Gotland Quartets. Here, with the Nos. 5 and 6, the comparison is again between the Stenhammer and Oslo Quartets, and this time the Fresk Quartet in No. 5 and the Copenhagen Quartet in No. 6—the record label, Caprice, split the quartets up among three ensembles. So here are the results of the present comparison

Quartet No. 5

Ensemble I II III IV Total
Fresk Quartet 5:07 7:30 1:54 4:14 18:45
Oslo Quartet 5:29 7:30 2:26 4:32 19:57
Stenhammar Quartet 5:13 7:29 1:58 4:15 18:55

Quartet No. 6

Ensemble I II III IV Total
Copenhagen 7:48 2:44 7:48 6:02 24:22
Oslo Quartet 8:14 3:08 7:53 6:03 25:18
Stenhammar Quartet 7:12 2:44 8:08 6:00 24:04

The outcome is pretty much the same as before. The previous comparison found the Stenhammar Quartet taking a middle-of-the-road approach, tempo-wise, between the slightly quicker-paced Gotland Quartet and the generally slower-paced Oslo Quartet. That conclusion is reaffirmed here, even allowing for the two different ensembles, the Fresk and the Copenhagen, taking the place of the Gotland in the Fifth and Sixth Quartets, respectively. With minor exceptions, the Stenhammar’s timings fall in between those of the other ensembles, and end up closer in total to their Swedish (Fresk) and Danish (Copenhagen) counterparts than to their Norwegian (Oslo) colleagues.

It’s with good reason that Stenhammar’s circa 1910 Fifth Quartet carries the nickname “Serenade,” for it’s an easygoing, genial, breezy, spontaneous-sounding, melodious work that has much in common with Hugo Wolf’s much earlier (1887) Italian Serenade and Dag Wirén’s much later (1937) Serenade for Strings. But, personally, I find Stenhammar’s score prettier than the former and better put together than the latter; and it’s performed by the Stenhammar Quartet’s players with much warmth and affection.

By virtue of its minor key, the Sixth Quartet, dated 1916, is necessarily a somewhat less upbeat-sounding piece, but Stenhammar doesn’t seem to have had it in him to compose a dark, tragic-sounding work. The score frequently veers off into sunnier, major-key climes for lovely, song-filled melodies.

The unnumbered String Quartet in F Minor, date 1897, is an equally engaging piece, which, in its melodic contours and rhythmic patterns, more than occasionally calls Dvo?ák to mind. If you’re just beginning to explore Stenhammar’s string quartet output, I’d strongly suggest you start with this disc. The music is as ear-pleasing and emotionally satisfying as anyone could ask for, and the performances by this outstanding Scandinavian ensemble, complemented by BIS’s vibrant SACD recording, make this an unqualified recommendation.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: BIS-2009

  • UPC: 7318599920092

  • Label: BIS

  • Composer: Wilhelm Stenhammar

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Stenhammar Quartet